Recently, I was buying some pizzas, and when I handed the cashier my money she did something that made me freeze: she held up the dollar bills to the light, examining them closely. She was trying to see if they were authentic. At that moment, I thought to myself, Oh great. Did I get stuck with a counterfeit bill? Fortunately they were not counterfeits, and I got my pizza and went on my way. But counterfeit money is a real problem for businesses, and so cashiers are often trained to recognize fake money.
Do you know how they do it? They don’t study fake money. Instead, they learn all about real money. When the Federal Reserve prints dollar bills, they add all kinds of markings that authenticate the true value. That way, no matter how a counterfeit bill is made, a cashier can tell what’s real and what’s not. When you know what to look for, you can spot a fake a mile away.
In 1 John 2:18-25, John is warning us about spiritual scammers who pass on counterfeit gospel messages. They use spiritual language and sound very religious, but if you listen closely, what they’re preaching is a false gospel—such as a gospel of getting lots of money, or treating our neighbors in a fearful and hate-filled way, or trying to follow God’s commands legalistically rather than relying on grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But the real gospel, which John often calls “the truth,” is purely the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
So how do we avoid getting tricked by counterfeit gospels and falling for their lies? John says the best defense is to “remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27). We could never study every single lie—there are too many of them! Instead, Jesus calls us to abide in Him (John 15:1-17). By faith, we can rest in the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection, even as we seek to understand the truth of God’s Word. Throughout our lives, He will guide us through His Spirit, His Word, and His people, helping us discern what is true and what is false. When we understand the true gospel, we can better defend ourselves against false gospels. As we abide in Jesus, we will be prepared to face whatever messages are thrown at us. • Jacob Bier
• How can looking at the true gospel help us recognize fakes? (More on the gospel on our “Know Jesus” page.)
But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ. 1 John 2:27 (NLT)